Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"Chicago" Poetry

Ray's comment raised some questions for me. If experimental poetry is in some renaissance in the city/region, is it being written from a specifically Midwestern viewpoint? Is experimental poetry "regional" in the U.S. any more? What schools of experimental poetry are there in the city and who are the poets associated with them? Do the different poetic groups in the city depend on economic or academic standing? Are different groups really open to each other? What experiments are being done here that are not being done other places?

Anyone want to offer an opinion?
posted by bill @ 10:22 PM 9 comments

At 4:49 PM, Larry Sawyer said...
Random thoughts here...this recalls Kerri's comment re: shared geography vs. aesthetic differences? I think internal observers would probably be more aware of aesthetic differences and categorize along those lines and outside observers would tend to lump Chicago poets together according to shared geography. I personally think a little community building is a positive thing. I seem to note shared aesthetic allegiances among Iowa grads--not making a value judgment about it--and then, of course, there are divisions among the poets here, definitely, regarding stylistic and aesthetic allegiances. Perf poets being at one end of the continuum and page poets at the other? But setting it up as a dichotomy is simplification to an absurd level. There are many varying gradations inbetween. I've been living here for approximately 5 years now and feel much more at home than I initially did--I view bumping into the same groups of talented poets at various local venues as a blessing. I'm not one to quibble to the point of absurdity, most interesting poets I've met here are using collage tactics, colloquial language, somewhat surrealist juxtapositions, and various disparate elements mined from various media sources to make their work jump. I don't think many of the poets I admire around here worry much about whether their work is accessible, they operate on simultaneous levels of thought. I'm not sure many Chicago poets I know necessarily consider themselves "Chicago" poets either--seems limiting to apply the label. But this is America and marketing is key! Is there a craft vs. inspiration argument? It's possible to write oracular poetry that's also very experimental or else to write experimental poetry that seems perfectly comfortable to never leave the page. At some point any reading is a performance of some kind. One may choose to mutter barely audible poems but if the work is solid most audiences I know would still respond to it. Gabe Gudding recently gave a soft reading and was so masterful that one strained all the more to be sure to catch every word--is there a recipe for anti-performance? Can we figure that out and play off audience expectations? Is there now a Chicago school?

At 1:02 PM, Ray said...
I think that there are certainly some groups that have similar interests and concerns and then there are groups that are in dialogue some not.

Here is how I view Chicago poetic groups and some of these groups are in dialogue and some are not.
All of these groups have good poets and I think that it makes our city quite rich in poetic presences.

Here is my assessment of the subgroups within the "experimental" world of poetry in Chicago/Milwaukee anyone I left out please forgive me in advance.

Academic Experimental Poets:

Type of Poet: Tend to be full time professors or teachers.

These are poets who are marginally or completely experimental and can be interesting but who do live within an academic setting. This is the best marketed group in Chicago poetry.

S. Reddy
Arielle Greenberg
Tony Triglio
Dan Beachy Quick
Robyn Schiff
Bill Allegrezza

Non Academic Experimental Poets tend to be a little more daring than the academics but need to work harder on self marketing.

Type of Poet: Well educated but not teachers of poetry primarily

Chuck Stebelton
Kerri Sonnenberg
Jesse Seldess (Left us)
Mark Tardi
Ray Bianchi
Larry Sawyer
Roberto Harrison
Dave Pavilich

Hyde Park Poets/CPP/Danny's
a group that is very similar to the Academic Experimentals but they are either not academics or are Graduate Students and tend to be in dialogue with everyone. Strong Duncan influence here.

Matthias Regan
Eric Elstain
Peter O'Leary
John Tipton
Joel Craig
Michael O'Leary
Mary Margaret Sloan

UIC Poets, this group should be larger but I dont know all the name they are not experimental poets but they are not mainstream either there are many Steven's devotees they are more traditional and tend to use experimental forms and usages but are not easy to stereotype.

Kristy Odelius
Garin Cycholl
Simone Muench
Michael Anania
Mary Bittinger
Chris Glomski

Slam Poets/Hip Hop Poets

This is a mixed group some are totally Slam oriented and some are more talented and do other things two of my favorites in this group are Krista Franklin and Tychimba Jess

Therapeutic Poets

Finally there are a whole ocean of poets who could best be described as hobbiest poets or therapeutic poets and I dont know these poets well and much of their work is focused on self rather than poetry as art.


I think that all of these groups are in dialogue to a degree. There is not that much to say with the Therapeutic group since their concerns are different. I think that one area where all four "experimental groups" are weak is to be in dialogue with those poets like Krista Franklin and Tychimba Jess who are fine poets and who tend not to be from the same background a real outreach should happen on this front.

At 5:00 PM, Larry Sawyer said...
What is considered "experimental" is a mutating concept, so it may be interesting if we make an attempt to define our terms. Is experimental: Olson’s poetics as “open field”; Pound’s emphasis on image above all else; the worldwide Surrealist emphasis on experimentation and bizarre juxtaposition; the Beats emphasis on controversial subject matter, raw presentation (i.e., first thought=best thought), and line length governed by breath unit; disruptive syntax and avoidance of the lyric of Language poetry; maximal actualism of poetry like that written by the late Jim Gustafson; talky-quirky, city surrealism of Frank O’Hara; abrupt variation in diction and tone (latinate and slangy words commingled) of the New York School? Does any of this apply any more?

Flarf? Certainly HTML and Internet use, not to mention the proliferation of the poetry workshop has affected the course of poetry in the United States. I usually assume that experimental does not include poetry that relies solely on contraversial subject matter with a disregard for craft. I've had Clayton Eshleman tell me that he goes through hundreds of drafts per poem. Cid Corman told me that producing a poem consists of excising all superfluous words. Is there a re-emergence of the lyric? Are sound poets being the most experimental. Obviously what was considered experimental in the days of the Don Allen anthology no longer applies, although I gained much from reading that book way back when. What's next is what I want to know. I'm genuinely amazed and constantly excited by this idea called poetry and all its permutations.

At 6:30 AM, Ray said...
Experimental is a throw away term. I prefer to look at contemporary poetics in the following way.

Out of the Pound tradition there is a profound use of many sources and a sense of history as poetry.

Pound's work comes out of that sense. So as contrasted with say Williams who was concerned with the everyday and using that to create new ways Pound and his followers are concerned with bringing our shared poetic history and a dialogue with other languages into the poetic conversation.

Duncan and the SF Ren people along with many Black Mountain poets do this well.

The best examples of this kind of poetics I have found recently is Chris Glomski's new book and Lisa Jarnot's Second Book (for its complexity).

I also think that there is a profound avant garde sense that does not desire this dialogue with other cultures or languages. This sense might be called Steven'sesque even though this is simplistic.

There are allot of 'experimental' poets who are not concerned with history or our poetic past or other languages but more with a sense of poets on a mission.

There are an aweful lot of these poets around. I think that it is easier to be this way since it requires less reading and can be more focused on self experiences in a non confessional way which also comes out of the Whitman tradition.

I think that to use contemporary MFA programs as a way to define the poetic 'tribes' so to speak is not helpful because it is too simple.

Chris Glomski for example went to Iowa MFA but his work is really aesthetically in the Pound/Black Mountain camp. He has much more in common with say Duncan than with Jorie Graham who was his teacher.

A poet like Garin Cycholl has many influences. His work could be a fusion of many things not least of which is a sense of the land and geography which is usually absent in contemporary poetics.

Another poet like Jesse Seldess has much owed to Stein and her sense of language and repetition and little to do with any aesthetic other than his own and Jesse went to Iowa as well.

So what is an experimental poet? My friend Joe Ahearn defined it this way and I cannot think of a clearer definition;

Concerned with Language non-confessional the postmodern sense that we can fuse traditional forms with non traditional forms fluidly.
a profound dialogue with other artforms. A dialogue with the actual and the non actual to create a new sense of language and poetry.

Regarding the internet I think the only difference between the Internet and years ago when poetry magazines were printed is a sense of access. Poets today can get their work out but the sheer volume of garbage has hurt the critical structure of poetry and I think that this has not been good for the artform the need for critical structures is the key thing needed for poetry. Someone needs to think about whether or not the poetry that is lauded is really interesting? I find allot of the poetry that is award winning boring and banal. I also find that allot of Post Language poets to be formulaic in their writing but they are getting published by intertia and reputation.

At 10:30 AM, Kerri said...
sorry i've been out of it lately. stil l waiting for a chance to collect my thoughts about last week's kenny goldsmith reading which i'll post here.

all of this vocabulary is very tricky, and part of what i want to say is that so-called experimental writers by my definition engage with the conceit that language is an imperfect system, an illusion of certainty that makes the whole endeavor of taking it up as one's artistic/expressive medium kind of absurd. writing that is not written with this (liberating? baggage?) in mind seems to lack a crucial dimension that I, as a reader, miss. This writing, that some may term non-experimental, conventional, school of quietude, etc. is best defined by my eye and ear as work that operates under the assumpion, the trust really, (in) of language as an authoritative tool. Authors that consider themselves masters of this medium, and masters of their readers' experience have always seemed to me a bit deluded.

similarly, i once attended a fundraiser for a local literary organization that situates itself within the traditions of identity/performance/declarative poetics. readings and mingling occured that made me and the fabulous and now in egypt dawn b. feel a little out of place. the director of the organization came over and asked us if we were poets, and then what KIND of poetry we wrote. that question still stumps me. dawn replied for the both of us, "postmodern." i'm not sure if this was any more definitive than "experimental" "for the page" or any other designation, but it seems the least problematic of all the terms kicked around so far/usually.

At 11:05 AM, Kerri said...
let me go back to a few of bill's initial questions, good ones. just when one thinks they can provisionally resolve the issue of what constitutes the "experimental" there's another issue of what constitutes regionality to a poetic school. i think it's more difficult than 10, 20, 30 years ago for geographic locales to develop a sense of poetic school because a. americans are very migratory, poets even more so, i.e. how many poets in sf or ny are born and raised in either place? are midwesterners more rooted to a sense of place? a lot of us seem to have a hard time leaving this region.. what keeps us here? (our highly developed "family values?"!) b. the post ww2 growth of the college industry that brought education to outposts that typically are not urban centers, or other traditionally artist communities. u.s. poets relying on these insitutions for work take on a nomadic lifestyle as a result, and add an interesting dimension creatively to one's sense of place. c. a unique sense of place is increasingly hard to come by in much of the country where the franchise landscape makes houston look like rockford (il) look like mesa (az) look like... a dearth of places, mostly older cities like chicago and ny, seem poised to blunt this homogeneity at the level of their local culture and thereby have more to offer writers/artists taking up questions of place in their work.

At 9:12 PM, Larry Sawyer said...
More random and forgive me if I stray too far from, ahem, the topic at hand, but I found an interesting Pound quote that had me thinking a bit more about the nature of what could be called "experimental."

--As for experiment: the claim is that without constant experiment literature dies. Experiment is one of the elements necessary to its life. Experiment aims at writing that will have a relation to the present analogous to the relation which past masterwork had to the life of its time.--

This reminded me of Ray's comment that there are experimental poets here in Chicago relatively unconcerned with the history of poetry or history in general. To understand the relationship that past masterworks had to the life of its time would require some understanding of the social context in which these texts were written. I think to a certain extent the attitudes of some younger poets, including their ambivalence regarding poetry of the past, reflects our consumerist culture where something that has only existed for five or so years is considered "old." It may be that it's natural that personal taste guides one to read only what one likes, consuming only the new, versus expending the effort it would require to study omniverously the poetries of the distant past or world poetries. I admit that writing poetry has shortened my attention span but it has not decreased my interest level.

It may be, going in another direction here, that poets who have no understanding that language in itself is a faulty construct and that narrative is at best a fallacy will forever write confessional or therapeutic poetry but by increasing their knowledge of what has come before and subverting it they may begin this process of renewal that could be called experimentation. I do see that there is a group of poets here in Chicago interested in innovation who understand that mere stylistic effect is not enough and that a focus on the malleability and plasticity of language must be grounded in an understanding of history, or at least literary history, in order for a work to have real social relevance. I think it may be that an awareness of all this is a distinctly Chicago viewpoint right now among poets here who are attempting something different in their writing, only because there may have been a lack of this viewpoint in this city until fairly recently, thus a "renaissance."

There are poets across the nation attempting something similar but there is a confluence of individuals here who are bent on innovation and they all seem to be of the same age range? The common denominator is aesthetic standpoint in a general sense versus using the locale of the city of Chicago as subject matter in the work. It may just be happenstance that so many interesting poets are now calling Chicago home.

At 11:49 AM, Kerri said...
The review of Ted Berrigan's Collected in the Poetry Project Newsletter has been reprinted on Silliman's blog today and it strikes me as relevant to some of the points Ray has brought up on the definition of innovation in poetry, the role of class and employment sector one's in poetics and poetry community, the role of history in innovation, etc.

I thought this bit was of particular interest, probably because "unkempt" sounds like a fitting description of my own activity.

Quote is from film critic/artist Manny Farber: "Good work usually arises usually arises where the creators... seem to have no ambitions towards gilt culture but are involved in a kind of squandering-beaverish endeavor that isn’t anywhere or for anything. A peculiar fact about termite-tapeworm-fungus-moss art is that it goes always forward eating its own boundaries, and, likely as not, leaves nothing in its path other than signs of eager, industrious, unkempt activity.”

At 12:12 PM, Kerri said...
on the charge that a lot of poetry being written today is not concerned with history, i disagree. while overt quoting from the iliad may have fallen out of f(l)avor, my sense is that there is more history, literary and, uh, the regular kind, pressed into allusion than i credit myself with being able to detect.

kind of like how the colbert report expresses a progressive viewpoint through the manufactured lens of a conservative slant, i think a lot of postmodern poets advance a keen knowledge and sensitivity to history with the informed structures they build on top of it. If I spend enough time I can usually find it peeking through the shutters, or perhaps history is more appropriately the hvac system in this scenario/contemporary practice.

maybe i just want to be talking about the colbert report and architecture and this has been a fiendish tangent. apologies.

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